Blog & Insight

How do you get out of the corner when you're backed into it?

"How do I get out of a corner when I'm backed into it by a supplier or stakeholder?" was a question during a recent lunch & learn on the topic of the missing link in negotiations.

As I share in my poem 'from not knowing to knowing what to do':

"It is our conventional eyes that are seeing the lack of options,
Unconventional looking gives permission to act ‘as if’ there’s other ways to view the situation,
To believe there’s a solution, or even multiple solutions, out there"

In this respect, when you're feeling like you're backed into a corner, one method of unconventional looking means exploring the metaphor within the words you're using to provide alternate and new perspectives.

That is, to explore that corner.

Of course conventional eyes, logic and best practice negotiation have their place in finding solutions for you, and yet I'm guessing, if the answer was that easy you wouldn't be asking the question.

Tools in the LANDSCAPE coaching and problem solving toolkit all help go beyond what you know into uncovering that which is currently hidden from view - to provide new perspectives. Perspectives that provide you with more choice about what to do next. Analogy & metaphor, one of the elements of the toolkit, is no exception.

I asked LinkedIn for some input and here's the outcome of our exploration of being backed into the corner.

What not to do when exploring metaphors for potential solutions

If at the first sign of a metaphorical solution you're tempted to jump straight into translating it - DON'T.

Please don't.

It's much like stopping after every sit up - it's more effective the longer you keep going.

Or if you prefer, it's like poking a seed you've only just planted - it won't grow unless you give it some space and time.

The problem is that your logical mind WILL want to make sense of the exploration as you go along.

It can't help itself.

I often draw on a flip chart a space for you to imagine your logical mind is going on a break too - or put it in an envelope.

Sometimes you have to talk very directly to your logical mind and say something like "you're great at what you do, just not so great at creative thinking and that's what I need at this moment in time. I will absolutely need you after to make sense of all the creative thoughts and yet for the next few minutes can you please go on a coffee break and I'll come and get you when I'm ready."

I know it sounds weird but if it helps you to let go of logical thinking and embrace more creative thinking for the duration of the exercise then weird it has to be.

How to use the metaphors in your language

  • Notice the metaphor in your language - for example seat at the table
  • Explore the metaphor for solutions - what would you do to get a seat at a table - in restaurants, at school, with the queen etc
  • Explore the metaphor some more - don't translate it it too early (remember you've sent logic on a coffee break or even on holiday)
  • Translate the metaphorical solutions back into real life
  • Take action having uncovered options you didn't realise were there before
  • Start to notice metaphors in your language when you don't know what to do and mine them to find solutions to help you to know what to do. (This is what I love most about coaching, facilitation and training - you're using metaphors ALL all the time and they will always add a new dimension to your thinking. If you'd like me to attend a meeting or two to help explore the metaphors you're using - do get in touch - see the bottom of this post. It would be a particularly useful tool in historically confrontational meetings with suppliers or stakeholders.)

Solutions when you're backed into a corner

For this to make sense it would be really helpful for you to think of a situation you feel backed into a corner about. You can then notice what you notice when you get to the end of the post how much more confident you feel about what action to take.

I'd also recommend having a go yourself before reading further - think about all the solutions you would have if you were backed into a corner?

Remember stick with the metaphor.

The solutions uncovered using this method follow a few themes:

  • How to use the corner to provide momentum
  • How to be happy in the corner
  • Realise you're not stuck in the corner
  • Demolish, change or find a way out of the corner
  • Visualise where you want to be instead
  • Try a little laughter & absurdity

The idea being you're testing or loosening the validity of your belief that there are NO options available to you.

How to use the corner to provide momentum

Muhammad Ali was a great ambassador for a rope-a-dope. Leaning into the rope to take some of the energy out of the punches from his opposition. This allowed him to keep his strength and bide his time for the opportunity to strike back - an opportunity that always came.

Inviting you perhaps to consider how to bide your time as you wait for an opportunity to take action, or use the firmness of the walls as a spring board for action not as a means of sapping your energy.

I understand that in Lishi Tai Chi you're asked to push on a wall in order to feel all your strengths, weaknesses, stuck bits and points of balance. The aim being to ground yourself and feel the earth's power coming up and through you allowing you to move any way you then want.

Which reminds me of a favourite technique of mine - embody the metaphor. Find a corner and feel what it's like to be backed into it (yes you really did read that and I would not suggest it if I didn't think it would work).

It's certainly helpful to enact how you're feeling. It's as if by for example, stepping out of a rut, turning a corner, stopping treading water, turning over a new leaf or putting down the stick you're beating yourself up with you're reminding yourself it is possible (see links to show me demonstrating these idioms to get a sense of what I mean).

Or even getting your head out of the sand (the guy who was walking his dog and was asked by me if he'd take the picture wasn't expecting this!)

This new belief then opens the door to discovering new opportunities.

How to be happy in the corner

If a force is backing you into a corner you can either come out with equal or more force to get out of the corner - or stop pushing back.

I'm no Mohammad Ali (obviously) but here I demonstrate what happens when Gavin, my personal trainer, stops providing any resistance.

If you accept and don't resist being in the corner perhaps you could invite the other party to sit with you in the corner for a chat?

What purpose does the corner serve and how can that purpose be served without the corner?

Or perhaps you're only here in the corner because it's a safe space whilst you develop a strategy to get out?

Realise you're not stuck in a corner

In most corners there are 90 degrees of opportunity to get out of it - the question is to then check if something is really stopping you from exiting the corner for every one of these 90 degrees?

Could you distract that which is backing you in to get passed them?

Or simply meet that which is backing you into the corner head on?

Or stop defending the corner because there's more important corners that really do need your time and attention - ie pick your fight.

Demolish, change or find a way out of the corner

Get the builders in to demolish the corner, the architects in to redesign it and to add a door, or use a sledge hammer to demolish it!

Is the wall low enough for you to climb over, or do you perhaps need to get a ladder?

If you imagine being the size of a qwark then the wall isn't even that solid and you can just move through all that empty space.

Perhaps much like many video games you can warp the geometry and move dimensions, angles etc. Which has me thinking about using a wormhole to get through to the other side!

If the wall is made of bricks, paper, ice, metal or plants how might the options available to you differ, for example, how might you melt an ice wall or burn a paper one?

In other the words, the corner is not as solid, permanent or immoveable as perhaps you first thought. Which means you're no longer at the mercy of others but back in control.

Visualise where you want to be instead

Sometimes you just need to be clear where you want to be instead - which will then make it much easier to plot a route from where you are to where you want to be. That is, you can end up down many a dead-end because of your lack of clarity.

My poem Paths & Destinations could provide a little unconventional insight if you want to get a different perspective on a destination you're headed towards.

Try a little laughter & absurdity

During the LinkedIn exchanges I was reminded of the nursery rhyme Little Jack Horner sitting in the corner eating his Christmas pie!

This reminded me of Absurdity & Laughter, which is another element in the LANDSCAPE toolkit, because some of the silliest ideas can inspire a train of thought that leads to true brilliance.

And at other times laughing can just dislodge the barriers you to have to seeing the situation differently.

It's as if you've held on to this way of seeing the situation so long you believe it's true and laughter helps bring some new perspective to it.

Absurd ideas therefore might include:

  • Writing a list of what Little Jack Horner would do? or Humpty Dumpty? or the old women who lived in a shoe (that won't have any corners)
  • Changing the metaphor - if you're in a garden what you would you do? If you were a flower how do you attract the bees and keep greenfly away?
  • Changing the saying - such as: pushed into a corner; danced into the corner; pirouetted into the corner; swam into the corner; backed into a circle (the idea being to get as silly as possible); back to the future corner; the empire strikes back to the corner;
  • Imagine being the footballer in a corner and passing the ball to someone else to score the goal
  • Thinking what a rat, tiger, eagle, mouse etc would do to get out of the corner?
  • What would your role model, super hero or anti hero do?
  • Draw your corner, and then draw the solutions
  • Consider how many corners grand prix drivers have to go round in every race - ie they relish corners not resist them. I'm loving this history of Monaco's corners over the last 90 years which reminds us that corners can and do change!
  • Use Lego to represent the current corner and then make changes to it
  • See if any songs might provide new insight (I had to stop myself not getting lost in a YouTube vortex)

And what about a corner in the sky !?!

or corner of your mind

And just to say - I've steered away from exploring what is backing you into the corner because it would be harder to stay with the metaphor and you could easily get taken off down a tangent of "that won't work etc".

Applying the solutions to real life

If you've stuck with me to the end of this post - well done - I know I can get a little carried away.

A few things may have happened:

  • This has left you cold and your logical mind is frustrated and you're going to stick to logic to solve your problems from now on - thank you.
  • You already feel more confidence about the situation, and an action plan is now much clearer.
  • You're not sure what to do differently but would now like to let your logical mind have a go at translating the above suggestions into practical solutions to apply to the current situation.
  • Something else entirely.

Practical solutions when you're feeling backed into a corner

This is the difficult part for me because each of you reading this started with a different situation, a different representation of what was backing you into the corner, and a different corner.

Your solutions will therefore be unique.

I would strongly recommend, therefore, that you write your own list before reading mine.

That is, the following suggestions will be constrained by my own situation and relationship with the metaphor:

  • Know you've still got time
  • Know even tankers can be turned (sorry I'm mixing my metaphors)
  • Take time to develop a strategy
  • Invite them to tea and see the situation from your perspective, or see it from theirs
  • Stop resisting what they want you to do - perhaps they're right!
  • Prioritise your corners - they're not all equally important - and perhaps you have different priorities to the other party - could you find corners you agree on, ones you look after and ones they do?
  • Release the negative beliefs about you, the other party, your outcome and your ability to find a solution
  • Get clear about the outcome you want (here's a 9 step process for doing that)
  • Get some perspective - understand this is just one corner of possibly 000s within the building - is it therefore really that important?

Phew - I bet the person asking the question in the lunch and learn didn't expect this answer.

Do let me know how you got on

How to work with me

If you'd like to explore more about using the unconventional tools in the LANDCAPE toolkit to help expand your team's thinking do get in touch and let's explore what mix of 5 or 28 day challenges; language audits; webinars; lunch & learns; group coaching clinics; and 1:1 coaching or even 1:1 1 day mini retreats would meet your needs +44(0)7770 538159

Additionally you can sign up for my newsletter here or follow my Landscaping Your Life podcast on Apple, Spotify or other podcast apps. They both provide hints, tips, tools and ideas for how to see situations from a different perspective to open up the options and opportunities available to you in any situation where you think you're options are limited.


© Alison Smith
VAT Registration: 224 5001 58
Registered in Scotland, Registration Number: SC457105
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